The Nationals’ Denard Span, one of the best defensive center fielders in the league, has played with plenty of poor outfielders in his career.
Without naming names, Span said there were times in Minnesota when he essentially had to play two-thirds of the outfield to ensure nothing horrible would go wrong. Sometimes it was a designated hitter playing beside him, or perhaps a first baseman.
This month, in Washington, Span has seen another infielder transition to his right. Ryan Zimmerman, longtime third baseman for the Nationals, returned from a thumb injury and has resumed defensive duties in left field. So far, Span’s not worried about Zimmerman out there.
“I’ve played with some guys who had no business being in the outfield,” Span said. “I don’t think that’s going to be the case here.”
Heading into Tuesday’s contest against the Giants, Zimmerman had a perfect fielding percentage in left field. He recorded 10 putouts in seven games. Throwing the ball back to the infield isn’t wearing on his shoulder the way throwing from third base to first did over the past year and a half.
All in all, the experiment with Zimmerman in the outfield appears to be working.
Utility player Kevin Frandsen knows all about the transition from infield to outfield, having to play either when called upon off the bench. He said the main thing Zimmerman has to do is to keep himself busy, as there is a lot more to worry about in the infield.
“Sometimes I felt like the little kid out there picking flowers,” Frandsen said.
The key, he added, is to stay on top of all of the responsibilities as an outfielder. He said it’s important to keep moving and stay engaged.
“You’re in the big leagues,” Frandsen said. “You find a way to make sure you’re on top of every pitch.”
Zimmerman’s ability to play left field gives the Nationals options, and playing first base remains a possibility for the 29-year-old, too.
“Very rarely do people get to play the same position their whole career,” Zimmerman said. “I’m lucky enough to be able to have played as long as I have so far. Hopefully I have a long career ahead of me.”